Farmer, Jo Martin standing in a field of spring barley

A BUSINESSWOMAN and farmer who launched a new rural network business during lockdown has been shortlisted for two awards and is now crowdfunding to help expansion plans.

Jo Martin, who farms in Sedgefield with her husband Peter, realised there was a gap in the market for rural business support on a whole range of issues from the best route for diversification to digital media.

As result she created the Rural Business Network to support members to learn, connect and grow.

She has been shortlisted for digital innovator of the year in the British Farming Awards for the growing success of her organisation and is also in the semi-final of a Santander emerging entrepreneur competition to win funding.

Ms Martin, whose business is a member of North-East England Chamber of Commerce, said: “I am so pleased how well the network has been received by farmers in such as short amount of time.

“It will be a game changer for our community and will help build my vision of providing networking opportunities, sharing best practice and developing new opportunities for rural businesses to thrive.

“When my boys were little I made and sold cakes at farmers’ markets.

“I could have grown that business but didn’t know where to turn to for support.

“I needed knowledge, inspiration, resources and connections.

“I couldn’t find an organisation for people like me – a farmer who knows that another income stream is key to survival.

“Fast-forward a few years and I have found the confidence to launch Rural Business Network.”

Ms Martin is a Teesside University marketing graduate who was part of its FUEL programme and is currently studying for a Masters degree at Sunderland University.

She added: “As a past Young Farmers’ Clubs county organiser I have experience in managing a membership organisation and I know that opportunities and collaboration can arise when like-minded people get together.

“The potential of Rural Business Network is to be the ‘go-to’ for rural business support across the UK.

“And it’s not just for farmers, whilst many members have farming in their blood, there are food processors, tourism businesses, creative businesses and professional services in membership – it’s for those in the supply chain too.

“The online events give members the opportunity to learn as well as ask questions and make connections.

“The Facebook group enables me to alert members to funding opportunities and enables member to member questions and offers of support and collaboration.

“I’m crowd-funding in September to raise funds to enable me to employ the first member of the team.

“My target is £10,000 which will allow us to support more rural businesses, benefitting the wider rural economy.

“There will be options to become a friend or supporter and there will be special offers for membership and the opportunity to bag tickets for a celebration event in January next year.”

To find out more or to make a donation visit: from 1st September.

This article has been published by the Northern Echo and The Northern Farmer.